Saturday, May 13, 2023

Avalanche Mountain Ski - 4.15.2023

Avalanche Mountain as viewed from The Ramp in April 2019.

I always have a hard time motivating to ski the Thin White Line. Its a lot of squeeze for the juice, and I don't like the avalanche hazard of the mid-slope bowl. But, after skiing impossibly deep (and pretty darn dark) snow on Ptarmigan at 9 PM on Tuesday night, we knew we should take advantage of unusually soft conditions around Powerline Pass.

Given the relatively long approach, we'd want to plan on linking in at least a couple other lines while back there - start with the TWL, then a lap on the Wedge, then go from there.

Several of us had grown the requisite blisters by the time the five mile approach was over and we'd climbed the access pass between Avalanche and the Wedge. Dropping into the contrastless bowl, we all did our best not to tip over in the flat light, let alone look like we had any idea how to ski.

We skied past a group of Dall Sheep rams who took a break from their grazing lunch to watch us flail down the inside of the ping pong ball.

Somehow having survived the approach, and in the basin under the TWL, we squinted up through the gray light to see that the last storm cycle had pulled out a large natural slide on the northwest face of Avalanche. Snapping our boots and skis to walk mode, we started to ascend the debris.

The recent slide made the snow firmer and the ascent easier, and we were able efficiently skin until reaching the mouth of the upper chute. Here we were above the crown of the big slide, and the climb became a lot harder as we booted up the deep snow.

As we approached the top, the climbing became almost impossible uphill swimming.

The only option left was to tunnel - a tried and true method to get to the top of lines, and get very very wet in the process.

The cornice at the top of the Thin White Line was very large and clearly peeling off the mountain. We cautiously carved out a little nook to transition while trying not to make eye contact with the teetering bomb of snow next to us. 

Then it was time to reap the rewards of our efforts, and drop back into the tight line. It was almost as deep on the way down as it had been on the way up.


I waited at the top for Nyssa, Tom, and Carolyn to ski the upper chute and tuck out of the way, then chased after them. Past the chute, we entered the bowl that inhabits the middle of the face. 

Devoid of the stability characteristics of a chute or couloir, this section of thin continental snowpack sitting on open face is what really scares me about the line. We were glad it had recently ripped big and cleaned itself out.

Skiing to the bottom of the bowl, the run rolled over into the lower chute. 

We watched Tom rip the chute, then milk the powdery apron all the way to Ship Lake. Awesome.

I skied down to Tom, then, as we soaked in the sun, Nyssa and Carolyn skied down to us.

From a spot of soggy overflow on the frozen lake we refilled our water bottles, then switchbacked our way towards Ship Lake Pass. The TWL is tucked into the center of the face; lookers left is the north face of Avalanche which is on some of our shopping lists and some of our checklists. 

What had been cold and dry surface snow was feeling the heat of the spring sun for the first time as it morphed into pounds of wet glop on our skis as we dragged these expensive anchors upward.

Fortunately Tom is unhumanly strong and did most of the hard work of breaking trail thru the hot schmoo to the top of the Wedge. Thanks Tom!

Next up was the north chute of the Wedge. We ski cut the entrance, then watched as Carolyn disappeared into the funnel to the heart of the line.

Skiing after her, we were all reminded how much we love this line hidden in the north cliffs of the Wedge.

With each turn the snow got better, and we regrouped at the bottom to watch everyone ski down. I thought back to my Colorado days where this line would stand alone as a worthy objective. Meanwhile, here it is just part of many of our go-to Anchorage backyard tours.

I lobbied to hit one of the Ramp chutes next (and collect more blisters), but was vetoed in favor of reascending the Wedge for one of its aesthetic southwest Frangewhacke chutes. 

Soon back on top of the peak, we ripped our skins and drank in the huge Chugach Mountains rising to the northeast. Some of us have skied some of these - the ski/slog possibilities are just endless here.

Following the tracks of Levi and Connor from earlier in the day, we found slightly challenging hot pow as we began to descend southwest off the peak. Nyssa made it look easy:

Carolyn did too:


As we lost elevation and the aspect became more southerly and solar, the snow transitioned to deep, well cooked, and slarvey corn. 

Carving down the long apron, I though about how I had forgotten how much I like this southwest chute and was glad that Nyssa and Carolyn pushed for it: the run starts as a wide bowl that rolls into the crooked chute framed with brown rock highlighted by the saturated oranges, yellows, and greens of lichen before spitting out the long apron that coasts back towards the Powerline Pass trail.

We coasted until the wide valley was too flat to glide, then, before skating back to our Subarus at Glen Alps, stopped to take in that a gorgeous and wild place like this can exist so close to our dear city. 

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